BEIJING — BEIJING - The arrest of a Hong Kong pro-democracy candidate in mainland China on charges of soliciting a prostitute touched off a media furor in the former British colony yesterday and fueled suspicion that Beijing was trying to influence next month's legislative election.
The uproar broke out yesterday morning after several papers published front-page reports that candidate Ho Wai-to had been arrested Friday in the mainland province of Guangdong and sentenced almost immediately to six months in a labor camp.
Given that such cases are usually handled with a fine, some analysts said the treatment of Ho was odd - especially because Hong Kong apparently was not notified and because the arrest comes at a time when Beijing's handpicked allies in Hong Kong are expected to lose support in the Sept. 12 legislative elections.
"A lot of people feel Ho's arrest is a setup," said Liu Kin-ming, editorial page editor with the Apple Daily, a pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper. "Six months is quite extraordinary."
Officials with the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, the ruling party sympathetic to Beijing, declined to comment on the case, as did Chan Kam-lam, their candidate running against Ho in the Kowloon East constituency.
Ho's wife added to suspicions about the case Tuesday when she said mainland Chinese authorities had brought a prostitute to her husband's hotel room in Guangdong's Dongguan region, beat him and then denied him food and water until he signed a confession.
"Democrat Jailed After Frame-Up With Prostitute," blared the headline of the South China Morning Post. "Suspected of paying for sex, Ho Wai-to sentenced to six months in labor camp," said the Ming Bao daily.
"This is either a juicy little sex scandal, which the Hong Kong papers love, or a political scandal, which the Hong Kong papers love," said Michael DeGolyer, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Chinese security officials in Dongguan denied entrapping Ho and said he was detained as part of routine vice raids undertaken Thursday and Friday. They said that Ho admitted giving money to the woman, identified only as Zhou, and that they had no idea Ho was a pro-democracy candidate when they arrested him.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.